Eric A. Havelock
Eric Havelock, while at Yale.
/ˈhævlɒk/) (June 3, 1903 – April 4, 1988) was
a British classicist who spent most of his life
in Canada and the United States. He was a
professor at the University of Toronto and
was active in the academic milieu of the Ca-
nadian socialist movement during the 1930s.
In the 1960s and 1970s, he served as chair of
the classics departments at both Harvard and
Yale. Although he was trained in the turn-of-
the-century Oxbridge tradition of classical
studies, which saw Greek intellectual history
as an unbroken chain of related ideas, Have-
lock broke radically with his own teachers
and proposed an entirely new model for un-
derstanding the classical world, based on a
sharp division between literature of the 6th
and 5th centuries BC on the one hand, and
that of the 4th on the other.
Much of Havelock’s work was devoted to
addressing a single thesis: that all of Western
thought is informed by a profound shift in the
kinds of ideas available to the human mind at
the point that Greek philosophy converted
from an oral to a literate form. The idea has
been very controversial in classical studies,
and has been rejected outright both by many
of Havelock’s contemporaries and modern
classicists. Havelock and his ideas have non-
etheless had far-reaching influence, both in
classical studies and other academic areas.
He and Walter J. Ong (who was himself
strongly influenced by Havelock) essentially
founded the amorphous field that studies
transitions from orality to literacy, and Have-
lock has been one of the most frequently
cited theorists in that field; as an account of
communication, his work profoundly affected
the media theories of Harold Innis and Mar-
shall McLuhan. Havelock’s
spread beyond the study of the classical
world to that of analogous transitions in oth-
er times and places.
Education and early aca-
Born in London, Havelock grew up in Scot-
land and enrolled at The Leys School in Cam-
bridge at the age of 14.